As you are probably aware, a refrigeration piping circuit should contain no more than two substances: refrigerant and oil. Any amount of moisture, air, or a combination of non-condensable gasses in the system can have a detrimental effect on the system’s proper operation. To protect the refrigerant circuit’s integrity, proper evacuation must occur whenever the system is opened and exposed to the elements. The EPA recommends that systems be evacuated to a minimum of 300 microns, but how do you know if you’re pulling a proper vacuum?
Essential HVAC Service Tools List
The purpose of evacuating a system is to reduce the pressure from 14.7 PSI (760,000 microns) atmospheric pressure to as close to zero as possible. A standard of at least 300 microns is typically required.
To accomplish this, you will require a tool capable of drawing the system into a deep vacuum. This process is only possible if the system is “tight,” that is, free of leaks. If the system is leaking, you will be unable to lower it sufficiently.
Perform a pump test prior to initiating the evacuation process. This can be accomplished by directly connecting a micron gauge to your pump and verifying that it can easily pull down to at least 50 microns.
If you are unable to lower the pressure below 50, inspect the connection for leaks at any fittings ( I like to use a little Nylog).
Ascertain that the oil is fresh and that all hose gaskets are in good condition. If you suspect that your micron gauge is defective, clean it with an eyedropper filled with denatured alcohol and insert a few drops into the gauge port.
Allow a few seconds for the alcohol to sit and then gently tip the gauge up and down several times before dumping the alcohol.
Repeat this procedure several times to ensure that any oil or other contaminants are removed from your gauge sensor. Retest and, if possible, compare to another micron gauge.
Personally, I prefer the Appion Tez 8 vacuum pump due to the large 1/2″ and 3/8″ ports that allow for maximum flow and the ease/speed with which oil changes can be performed.
The time savings I’ve realized as a result of using this pump more than justify the cost.
ALSO SEE: What are the Best HVAC Swaging Tool Kits?
Hoses that are rated for evacuation
Avoid using your charging manifold to create vacuums. Typically, charging manifolds have a small diameter (1/4″) and are densely packed with additional restrictions such as core depressors.
Additionally, the majority of hoses attached to charging manifolds are not rated for evacuation use.
You can test this by attaching your evacuation setup to your pump and pulling it down as far as possible; if the micron level varies significantly from the above test, or if the level immediately rises after the pump is isolated, you know that your setup contains a leak point.
I recommend that you purchase a set of evacuation hoses that are solely used for vacuuming. We’ve had excellent results with Appion hoses, and I highly recommend them to all of our assistants and apprentices. You’re going to thank me later.
The beauty of these hoses is that they have a 3/8″ female connection on one end that connects directly to your pump, a 3/8″ diameter throughout the length of the hose, and a 1/4″ female connection on the other end that is compatible with the majority of equipment manufacturers.
There are no core depressors, and I have discovered that using these hoses significantly reduces the time required for evacuation, particularly on large tonnage units.
Tool for removing the core
At this point, you may be wondering, “How does this setup work without core depressors?” This is the point at which the core removal tool becomes useful.
The objective is to have the least restrictive setup possible in order to expedite your evacuation process effectively.
This is accomplished by removing the Shrader cores and depressors from the hoses. I’ve used both Appion and yellow jacket core removal tools, but I use the Appions exclusively for evacuation.
Two of the yellow jacket tools have leaked when placed in a vacuum, but that could simply be my bad luck.
If you’ve never used one of these tools before, they operate by retracting the core removal portion of the tool and threading it onto your 1/4′ Shrader core port.
Reintroduce the remover section into the Schrader core by pushing it in until you feel it align with the core.
You can now unthread the core, withdraw the remover section from the tool body, close the isolation valve, and remove the core.
This indispensable tool enables you to swap out leaking cores without discharging the system, evacuate cores, and then reinstall them after charging the system. In my evacuation kit, I keep two of these tools, one for each connection port.
Additionally, by utilizing these tools during your evacuation, you can completely isolate your tools from the refrigerant system.
If you install your micron gauge directly on the system (which you should), you will no longer have to guess whether a rising micron level is caused by a leaky hose or if there is still a refrigerant leak.
If your vacuum pump is anything like the pumps I’ve used, the blank-off isolation valve is almost certainly leaking.
None of the isolation valves built into these pumps appear to be very durable, and they all eventually leak.
The Tez 8 pump pictured above does not even include an isolation valve. Prior to the Tez 8, I was running this yellow jacket evacuation manifold with a JB pump.
The advantage of using the evacuation tree is that in addition to gaining a valve that actually works, you gain the ability to connect two 3/8″ evac hoses and one 1/4″ port.
The bottom of the Tree is 1/2″, which connects to the largest port on the majority of vacuum pumps.
It also includes a 1/2″ to 3/8″ step down for use with pumps that lack the 1/2″ port. I’ve seen some people use their micron gauge from the 1/4″ port on top of the tree, which is acceptable, but I much prefer to use one of the Schrader core removal tool’s side ports, as we discussed previously.
Finally, but certainly not least, is a high-quality Micron gauge. This is a critical tool for determining when an adequate vacuum has been drawn to remove all moisture and gasses from the system.
We’ve tested numerous micron gauges over the years; some were completely unreliable and prone to leakage, while others performed admirably. Personally, I’d suggest purchasing a yellow jacket.
Take care where you place the gauge to avoid oil getting on the sensor and affecting your readings.
Never connect it in a downward sloped configuration; this increases the likelihood of oil contaminating your sensor.
If the sensor becomes contaminated, clean it with denatured alcohol as discussed previously. If the sensor becomes completely destroyed, replacements are available.
This is an expensive piece of equipment, but I believe the cost is well worth it for the peace of mind. Doing the job correctly the first time is significantly less expensive than returning for a warranty call.
In your HVAC tool kit, you’ll probably want a variety of hammers, from standard to ball peen, but especially a dead blow hammer.
Dead blow hammers disperse the force of the hammer impact (in contrast to the other two, which concentrate it), minimizing damage while hammering away. This is critical when performing delicate HVAC work.
Set of Screwdrivers
While all HVAC technicians will have a multi-purpose screwdriver, you’ll want to supplement your hand tool collection with a complete and versatile set.
While a flat head screwdriver and #1 and #2 Phillips heads are required, a complete set of additional screwdrivers (or heads) ranging from Torx to Hex would be beneficial.
At the very least, we recommend owning one ratcheting screwdriver with interchangeable heads.
It’s not ideal for the tiniest of spaces, but it will save your service technicians considerable turning time in all other circumstances.
From dusty air ducts to dark basements, the environments in which HVAC technicians work practically beg for a headlamp.
Without a doubt, one of the most critical HVAC safety tools. After all, you’ll require free hands to complete the task. Headlamps also have the advantage of tracking your head movement – useful even in well-lit areas.
Both a flashlight and a work light are included.
Naturally, you’ll still require a flashlight. While we prefer heavy-duty mag lights in a variety of sizes, any rugged flashlight will suffice. A plug-in work light is also useful if you’re going to be on the job site for an extended period of time. One of numerous useful HVAC hand tools.
Purchase a complete set of insulated pliers to help mitigate the risk of electrical shock. Variety is desirable in this case: HVAC tools such as needle-nose pliers, channel-lock pliers, and linesman pliers will come in handy.
Set of wrenches Wrench Set.
HVAC systems require a significant amount of tightening and loosening of bolts, nuts, and piping.
A good service wrench or two is always a good idea to keep in a tool bag. For your HVAC business, invest in a set of fixed and adjustable wrenches, as well as pipe wrenches.
Shears made of steel and tin snips. Occasionally, you will need to cut sheet metal to size. You should obtain tin snips for this purpose.
We recommend purchasing a complete set of Aviation snips, which are designed specifically for cutting curves and lines into sheet metal. Purchase the complete color-coded set.
Shears made of steel and tin snips.
Occasionally, you will need to cut sheet metal to size. You should obtain tin snips for this purpose. We recommend purchasing a complete set of Aviation snips, which are designed specifically for cutting curves and lines into sheet metal. Purchase the complete color-coded set.
Drills and drivers are indispensable tools in the HVAC industry. Here, an investment in quality pays off.
Consider reputable brands such as Milwaukee and Bosch, and consider a cordless drill option if one is available.
Specialty drills, such as the angle drill with a pivoting head – which features a slim design that easily fits into tight corners and spaces – are a game changer for HVAC service technicians.
Cutters for Pipes and Tubes
Speaking of confined spaces, acquire some close-quarter tubing cutters for those difficult-to-reach areas, as well as a pair of grip-handled tube cutters for more conventional spaces requiring a little more torque.
Cutter for PVC.
Cutting pipes, whether metal or plastic, is a common occurrence in the daily life of an HVAC technician. A PVC cutter is always the best HVAC tool for the job.
Extension Cords with a PVC cutter.
Not every power tool is cordless, and you’ll still need a charging station for your backup batteries. A few heavy-duty extension cords and a couple of power strips will suffice. That is sufficient.
Awl. A straightforward, but necessary HVAC tool for punching holes in piping. It’s the type of insignificant tool that you never consider but notice when it’s missing.
Expanding the holes in piping. A reciprocating saw is ideal for a variety of cutting tasks on the job. In a pinch, you can avoid lugging around a circular saw, as the Sawzall will do the job nine times out of ten—provided you have the proper blades.
As an HVAC service technician, you’re well aware that air leaks result in unhappy HVAC systems, which is why you’ll need a dripless caulking gun to seal any gaps and holes you discover (or create) while working.
A reliable tubing bender is a must-have when installing splits for an air conditioning system or performing other wiring work. Ratcheting benders are especially convenient to use.
Safety Equipment For The HVAC Industry
Priority is given to safety! It’s easy to overlook basic safety equipment, but here are a few essentials (and use, seriously).
Eye protection is critical, even more so when using power tools to cut through metal. Even the most seasoned HVAC technician could end up in the hospital due to a stray shaving or piece of shrapnel.
Gloves that are extremely durable.
Durable work gloves are also useful for similar reasons and will always be one of the best HVAC ‘tools.’ You’re working with sharp sheet metal, hot boilers, and possibly caustic chemicals – you get the picture.
At $6 per pair, something like these Grainger 15 Gauge Bipolymer Coated Gloves are ideal. Purchase multiples for peace of mind.
Protection for the ears.
Perhaps you’re not a music buff, but HVAC technicians should always wear ear protection when operating power tools in an enclosed space. Disposable earplugs or full-on earmuffs should be sufficient protection. Spare no expense on safety equipment.
Boots for work
Work boots that are rugged. This is a purchase that should be viewed as an investment. Work boots with a hard toe or steel toe made of high-quality leather will last a lifetime (and will need to, with the kind of beating they can take with regular HVAC work).
The sense of invincibility you’ll experience when you accidentally step on something heavy on the job will make it all worthwhile.
Specialty HVAC Tools
Gauges for refrigeration.
As an HVAC technician, you’ll be working with refrigerants, which means you’ll require a set of refrigeration gauges, possibly multiples.
These gauges assist you in locating leaks and determining whether an HVAC system requires purging, brazing, or recharge.
HVAC technicians will also require a refrigerant scale in addition to their refrigerant gauges.
Excess or insufficient refrigerant in the system will cause it to operate inefficiently (if at all).
A refrigerant scale ensures that the correct amount of refrigerant is added or removed from the system based on its weight – and thus its precise amount.
While HVAC service technicians are not strictly electricians, they frequently come into contact with electrical wiring, necessitating the use of a multimeter.
We recommend the Fluke 116 multimeter, which is specifically designed for HVAC technicians and includes an integrated thermometer for temperature readings.
One of the most useful HVAC technician tools to keep on hand.
A vacuum pump is a necessary HVAC service tool for removing moisture and air from refrigerant lines during service work.
These are available in one- or two-stage configurations, with two-stage configurations drawing a deeper vacuum and operating more quickly, but at a higher cost.
Nonetheless, unless you’re performing handyman work or performing relatively minor jobs, the only viable option for a serious HVAC business is a two-stage unit.
Nitrogen regulators are beneficial for purging and pressure testing HVAC systems and should always be included in your HVAC tool kit.
Refrigerant recovery machine and tank
However, before vacuuming out refrigerant lines, ensure that you have a recovery unit. It is a critical HVAC tool because federal law requires HVAC technicians to recover and capture refrigerants for environmental safety reasons.
Detector of leaks. While some leaks in an HVAC system are obvious, it is impossible to visually inspect every leak.
While you are not required to use a dedicated leak detector – you can conduct an evacuation test with a vacuum pump or with dyes – a dedicated infrared device simplifies the process significantly, and leak detectors can be one of the best HVAC tools.
. A crimper is required for easily indenting ducting. Klein Tools designed this 5-blade duct crimper specifically for HVAC technicians. Without a doubt, a must-have in your HVAC toolbox.
In addition to the crimper, a hand seamer is ideal for bending sheet metal and should be kept on hand by all HVAC businesses. Additionally, you can use this tool to straighten bent metal.
The “Megger,” one of numerous useful HVAC technician tools, is an insulation resistance tester that is absolutely necessary for ensuring the proper operation of an A/C compressor’s windings.
Non-essential HVAC Technician Tools (That are Still Nice to Have)
Nothing on our HVAC tools list below is strictly necessary to complete the majority of HVAC jobs, but each of them will significantly simplify your life and should be added to your “to acquire when I have sufficient funds” list. Take them as ‘advanced tools.’
Core Removal Tool
If your HVAC business requires the removal of a broken valve core or wishes to do so without sacrificing refrigerant, a valve core removal tool is quite useful.
Additionally, it can speed up refrigerant recovery times, and time is money.
Coil Fin Straightener
If you work as an HVAC technician in any capacity, but particularly in residential or small office settings, you’ll want to invest the $10 in a coil fin straightener. After all, coils can become bent, and proper flow is critical for an efficient HVAC unit.
A good psychrometer is required to accurately take temperatures and measure airflow within a duct system near the evaporator.
Most importantly, it will save HVAC technicians time when it comes to calculating system superheat (you know, to avoid flooding a compressor).
A micron gauge enables precise vacuum measurements, indicating whether the vacuum level within a system is appropriate or indicating the need for additional action and investigation.
Additionally, they can assist you in diagnosing when a system is contaminant- and moisture-free.
Digital refrigeration system analyzer. If your HVAC company performs refrigerator circuit work or other heavy refrigeration-related work, a digital refrigeration analyzer is a worthwhile investment (though it is also one of several useful air conditioning tools).
Models from Digi-Cools, including the popular AK900, start at around $300.
Why Choosing the Correct HVAC Tools Is Critical
Due to the size of the HVAC industry, we’re going to speak in broad strokes here. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all list of ideal HVAC service tools.
After all, the 28 percent of HVAC technicians who work primarily in single-family homes may have distinct needs from the 10.1 percent who work primarily in office buildings or the 10.5 percent who work in manufacturing and industrial buildings.
However, regardless of where you perform HVAC work, having the proper tools is critical. Because time is money, it’s critical to be able to reach for the appropriate tool at the appropriate time rather than having to run out and find or purchase new HVAC tools.
HVAC professionals can and should learn from their peers’ tips, tricks, and tools when working in a different HVAC setup – whether it’s a home or a factory.
Rather than a comprehensive list of “must-have” HVAC tools, consider this a list of suggestions for expanding your HVAC tool collection, saving time, and earning more money.